For a tournament as fickle as the IPL, where squads have been reshuffled every few years and franchises pop in and out of suspension, the consistent dominance of the Chennai Super Kings is nothing short of extraordinary. They exhibit an elite culture of winning, with players stepping up when their teammates fail, taking them over the line game after game.
Especially this season, it is not hard to draw comparisons between the franchise and Real Madrid, the Spanish football club. Even as both have dominated in the past, Chennai entered this season’s IPL and Real Madrid this season’s Champions League as underdogs of a sort. Chennai was returning to the league after two seasons of suspension, and were widely derided for their aging squad after the auction this year. Real Madrid has suffered from its worst league season this decade, with their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo running into a rough period of early-season form and other stars such as Marcelo and Toni Kroos displaying similar signs of decline.
However, Real Madrid has kept its nerve against less experienced teams, and has pulled through in clutch moments across two legs against Juventus, PSG, and Bayern Munich to march into the Champions League final. Similarly, Chennai has relied on its wealth of experience to pull through time after time. MS Dhoni has rediscovered his Midas touch at the death. Shane Watson seems to be able to predict the bowler’s length before they bowl. Dwayne Bravo, who has had a difficult season with the ball, has still managed to bolster his batting game. Last night, Faf du Plessis, who hadn’t made a significant contribution so far this tournament, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a clinical, cool-headed batting display with the tail.
When team sporting performance is maintained at this incredible level, it is usually down to cultural reasons rather than technical ones. When I interviewed Dwayne Bravo a few weeks ago, his love for Chennai was palpable. He was so happy to be back, playing under MS Dhoni, in front of their adoring fans. “That yellow jersey means something more” he explained. That is a far cry from the perception of other franchises, who have vastly different squads and playstyles each season. On the other hand, Chennai has tried to buy its original core group of players at every auction, reinforcing a culture of unity which seems to bring the team to that elite level.
Real Madrid, no matter what their form in the La Liga, step onto the pitch in the Champions League like it is their birthright as a collective to dominate European football. This swagger and self-believe pulls them through time and time again. Even as their players have experienced fluctuating form through the season, manager Zidane has backed his tried-and-tested lineups in crunch situations, and they have repaid his faith so far. Now, this Sunday, we look forward to the conclusion of each of these aging team’s remarkable seasons, as Chennai will compete in the IPL final in Mumbai and Madrid faces off against Liverpool in the CL final in Kiev. The teams and their remarkable players have nothing left to prove, but that is not how they think; they are driven by a relentless passion and desire for achievement and victory, year after year.